Monday 8 May 2023

Talent borrows, genius steals

Dear readers, we regret to announce that Gold Coast are no longer completely shit. We'll never lose the comedy motherlode of them having a four figure fanbase, but their on-field time may finally be coming. On Saturday night they beat us forward, middle, and back, displayed a T-1000 like ability to return from the dead, and should have come away with a draw at the very least. But - for now - they didn't. Development roadbump in our favour, collect four points. 

We've been through the emerging Suns story a few times since 2011 and they've spontaneously combusted every time. This might turn out differently, but for now an 11 game winning streak is our second best against anyone ever. There's still a minimum of five years to go before we run down our 20 in a row against North between 1953 and 1965, and I hope this page/my central nervous system last long enough to see it.

If you went back to the last time they beat us, in 2014 during the long-forgotten 'names on jumpers' week, no sane person dotted around the cavernously empty MCG that day would have picked us to reach finals, flags and long-term respectability first. Then their Ablett Or Bust philosophy bust along with his shoulder, good players evacuated as if escaping from an airline disaster, and they've flopped around at the bottom of the ladder since.

We, on the other hand, have somehow turned out good. Extremely so from August 2021 to May 2022, but still light years ahead now of where you could have imagined us a decade ago. There was that NQR season in 2019 where Gold Coast was the only worse side in the competition, but even that worked out in our favour. On this BOG showing I'm sure we would have been happy picking Noah Anderson at #2, but their priority pick steered us in the direction of Luke Jackson, who powered the Mad Minute and delivered three top picks via the resale system.

Now there's half a chance the Suns will get good too. For now, they're five points short of us, but on a ladder more congested than the Shanghai freeway that's good enough for me. Maybe some of the umpiring was a touch fruity, but refer to the Richmond post for discussion on how a) every team is unlucky sometimes, and b) if you're good enough you'll win anyway. What do you expect from umps who kept calling advantages for players who didn't want it, and one who was probably the worst bouncer of the ball in the history of the game. No matter what else happened they had a shot directly in front in the last 30 seconds and missed, so it's all on them in the end.

This was one of those games where it's almost impossible to give realistic votes because we had so few standouts, and nobody who was on the top of his game from bell to bell. I could almost cheat and wait to use the coaches' votes as a guide. Our midfield had its usual great moments, but also looked vulnerable at centre bounces again. It can't be because we've got the wingiest wings in recent memory, there wouldn't be enough time for them to get to the centre circle before the ball was being flung Gold Coast's way. Maybe my expectations are too high, even if the worst teams get clean exits from the middle occasionally, you're going to have to defend a few every game. We just seem to leak like a faulty submarine despite having more stars in the area than the Andromeda galaxy.

I was much more confident in sitting back and waiting for other teams to feed the rebound machine when our backline was operating at maximum power. I'll still take up weapons to defend peak May, Lever and Petty as the greatest MFC defensive combination since colour TV, but one of them is doing competent at best forward stuff, one is in ok form, and Lever's moustache is still offensive. We've coped without Salem so far, but we also had to go wwithout Hibberd, whose slowly disintegrating body required us to hit the long-awaited Disco Button and bring in Turner late.

If you needed any further proof that teams have realised the futility of blindly bombing the ball into our backline, it's that two thirds of the world's greatest backline looked vulnerable to barely heralded forwards like Casboult and Chol. Ben King is the best of the lot, and while we held them to a combined six goals from not many more kicks a lot of opportunities came from their contests. There was nowhere near as much cutting off as usual - our best interceptors were Rivers and Gawn with three each. Compare to the rest of the season where one of Lever or May is usually at the top. I'm not saying we've been rumbled, but you can't rely on teams merrily going to their doom against us anymore.

Turner's day didn't start well, with a massive shank on the full from his first kick, and he never looked comfortable in one-on-ones but he did take a couple of nice marks and will be welcome back in the future. For now, please clear a path for Petty to take up his rightful place in defence and let's get back to the important project of making sure he's ready to take May's spot in a few years.

If I'm not really into Petty as a forward but will credit his contest for clearing van Rooyen's path to the opening mark/goal. It looked so effortless for JVR that I started to fantasise about a performance that would have the Rising Star judges sliding off their seats. He went at it with 100% effort all night - perhaps a little bit too much at one stage of the last quarter - but never got another serious look at goal. I'm into playing him every week but it's looking more like 2020 Weideman every week - he needs the cover from an experienced forward. The benefits flow down to Fritsch, who found it easy against a rotten side last week but did nowt for three quarters here. Whether you think Brown or McDonald is the answer, one of them in the same forward 50 will switch focus off JVR while he develops. Then when he's older he can cover Jefferson, who can repeat the dose with the next prospect, and spend the next decade doing a key forward  

For now we were even with the Suns everywhere but reaping the rewards from their blooper-laden attempts at getting the ball out of defence. God knows what Geelong was doing losing to them, because if we'd had Cameron and Hawkins inside 50 this might have been as big a first term as last week. Regardless, we got to three goals in front, with Viney shooting for a fourth and I thought it might be a relaxing night to watch a game stretched out over a few hours and about 70 kilometres. Then, for the first time things started to go bad, from the Viney miss they opened us up like an unlocked door walk one in at the other end, soon your old mate Malcolm Rosas (me either) had two and we'd wasted the advantage.

Enter - thank god - Chandler for his novelty goal of the week in the dying seconds. They'd just missed a chance to go ahead, so if I was Stuart Dew my reaction to conceding this goal with 10 seconds left would have been to drive the medicart through the quarter time huddle. Like everyone else, this wasn't Chandler's best game, but he does some tremendous shit in front of goal. Easy to pretend you know what you're talking about eight months later, but for all the clamour for JVR to debut in the finals I reckon we could have done with a bit more of this: 

Things still weren't going all that well around the ground, but after trading the opening goals of the quarter we got another break that might have convinced a less cynical person everything was going to be ok. One goal from a 50, another from a free at the next bounce and it was 20 something points again. Those lasted about three minutes and the Suns were right back in it.

For want of anywhere else to mention this, did anyone else notice how much dummying the Suns were doing? Like how we've started doing underground handballs left, right, and centre, they put more feints and wrong foots than I've seen us fall victim to in several years combined. And we kept falling for it. They were smart enough to keep it in the middle of the ground so nobody tried taking on Pickett in the square and ending up plastered across the internet looking silly.

The irony of what happened at the end is that we got another goal in the final seconds of the quarter, at which point they were probably having to wrench the cart keys out of Dew's hands. The Suns had done so well to effectively neutralise everything that was good about us but couldn't get in front. I saw this happen plenty of times 2016-2020, and sometimes everything went right to get us over the line. It could easily have gone the other way here.

We weren't playing badly by any means but they were dragging along with us all the way. The idea that if we run teams around for long enough they'll lose heart didn't work here, because no matter what we did they would not go away. I don't want to sound patronising in case they end up as our overlords in a few years, but these were admirable qualities in an emerging team. And if somebody other than us has to win everything, the more flags for GWS and Gold Coast that I never have to hear anyone enjoying the better.

To paraphrase Bart Simpson, they were like some sort of non-giving up football guys. It'll come as a surprise to anyone who watched Melbourne 2010/2011, but it helped having #1 and #2 picks in the same midfield. This also assisted Dwayne Russell in blowing the front off his strides every time Matt Rowell went near the ball, he used the phrase "bull" so many times in four quarters that it started to sound like Bob Katter had dropped into Fox Footy studios.

After they kicked another couple in a row I thought Bowey lobbing one through might have been enough to get going again. There's a school of thought that you can't put him in the best players because he was on Rosas, but I'd argue most of his goals had nothing to do with an opponent and Jake was the calmest extractor of ball from defence that we had. I'm into McVee's future but right now I could do with a Christian Salem down that end as well.

That goal lasted about two minutes, but even when Sparrow got one late we were only six points up and all I had to calm the nerves - knowing that the rest of the world probably already knew the result - was our quality record in last quarters. Then they got a free on the siren, levelled the scores and I felt a little bit like having a vom.

Good thing we do finish games well, because the last quarter would best be described as 'frantic'. Petracca kicked things off with this absolute solid gold corker of a snap...  

.... only to spend the next few minutes peppering shots at goal for nothing. Then we got arguably lucky via Gawn being handed a free goal from the square due to excessive jostling about 100 metres away. I'll leave it to others to decide whether the free was justified or not, because I haven't got time to watch it from 19 different Zapruder Cam angles but it certainly came in handy at the time.

There was a brief lull in proceedings when van Rooyen's attempted spoil absolutely van Rooted a Gold Coast defender. There was nothing malicious in it, but it nigh on killed the poor bloke on the receiving end. Brent Staker left the ground in better condition after being clobbered by Barry Hall. This ended in neck braces, stretchers, and potential match review sanctions. Now that the bumping culture wars have been settled with 'don't do it', this should kick off a discussion about vigorous spoiling, then we can move on to screamers that involve jamming your knee into the base of a man's skull.

I appreciated the plight of a man who appeared to be seriously injured, but was approximately 40 minutes behind real time, knew the game was already over and couldn't spare the time to see him respectfully carted from the ground. So I wished him well while continually pressing the +15 seconds button until the game restarted. By this point I'd realised that a boundary throw in took about the same amount of time, so if I hit it the moment the ball rolled out the coverage would skip to the throw-in. It doesn't work for ball ups, I tried it a couple of times and the ball was already well in play when coverage resumed. Who knows what tremendous comedy zingers I missed from the commentators by skipping so much of the dead-air, but if they were as bad as the wildly zoomed in camera angles. 

Like the Perth lightning and the Brisbane blackout, the advantage after an unexpected break went to the chasing team. We might have cancelled their next goal out straight away, but after 35 games in a row with a goal Fritsch turned up with concrete shoes on and missed his second of three shots for the quarter. Then it started to get farcical, with an attempted escape from the last line of defence was smothered, and when it could have done literally anything else from that position the ball bounced perfectly to a Gold Coast player for Rosas' fourth. White smoke had already gone up at Kingsley Manor after his third, but now the Fire Brigade had to dispatch all available units to make sure the place wasn't burning to the ground.

The crowd split at Nugan Hand Bank Stadium was 50/50 at best, but they were going off their tits now. There's nothing like the prospect of springing a major upset to fire up even the most theatregoing crowd. We were now six points in front, and I can't have been the only one waiting for the karmic rebound from the famous Marty Hore/Tom McDonald heist.

Gold Coast's first chance to nick a draw/earn the option to stuff through a point with a minute left to win faltered when Gawn got away with grappling his opponent in a marking contest. This was bad news for Suns fans, and outraged neutrals who took up their cause in a creepily protective way. I'd have tipped a table if we didn't get the same free, but to be fair the loose ball led to a player taking a mark in a better position. Chol might have converted, only for us to go forward and win it anyway. Or he'd have kicked a point, and we'd have turned it over to lose. Anything can happen in the Wide World of Melbourne FC. 

Appropriately, on a big weekend for the Royal Family, the kicker was called 'Darcy' as if he's heir to the Duchy of Wimborne. He was a defender, but it was an easy enough kick that I was absolutely convinced it would go through. And then... it didn't, he pushed it right and I greeted the miss by throwing my phone in the air like an old time racegoer punting Phar Lap home. 

If you thought we were going to get through the last 14 seconds safely you were a more optimistic person than me. Our kick-ins had been chopped off all night, and May obviously didn't have faith in the umpires correctly judging distance for a short kick so he did the time-honoured big roost to the left of screen that we've been relying on since the heyday of Mark Jamar. By the time I'd processed what was going on the ball was flinging back towards our goal, and my internal Heist Karma alert went to DEFCON1. Thank god for Jack Viney getting in the way, blocking any opportunity at a kick to win it after the siren. 

I rolled on the floor in joy for a few seconds, then regained my composure, and guiltily moved on with my life, safe in the knowledge that we'd pinched the game from multiple angles. That's life, nervously tug at your collar all you like, we still got the four points. That'll do nicely.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jake Bowey
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Trent Rivers

I struggled to get to five in the first place, but apologies to Viney, McVee and Sparrow who were in the mix by default.

28 - Christian Petracca
25 - Clayton Oliver
11 - Brodie Grundy (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Max Gawn (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Kade Chandler
7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
5 - Ed Langdon, Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey
2 - Ben Brown, Steven May, Trent Rivers
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald, Trent Rivers

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies also to the Pickett spin in the third quarter, but it was a bad week for Kade Chandler - his from-the-arse snap in the first quarter had the nomination in the bank right until Petracca kicked that absolute belter from the boundary line in the last quarter. It not only went home with the weekly award, but I've promoted him to the season lead due to aesthetic beauty. The goal was very pretty too. For the weekly prize he wins... good intentions? I've got nothing.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
3 - Kade Chandler vs Gold Coast

Random House
Speaking of having nothing, The Last Hurrah has reached the end of its natural bookstore life. The remaining copies sadly aren't going to be pulped like Alan Partridge's Bouncing Back, but will be sold for scrap to discount book outlets. In an attempt to retain some dignity I've snatched a fair percentage of copies before they can get there, and am selling directly for equal or lower price to what you'll get in shops. This is your chance to not only get something NQR - and possibly illegal - written on the inside cover, but I'll throw in a behind-the-scenes extra chapter on the making of the book and its questionable role in what happened in Perth two months after publication. 

As an added bonus, anyone who purchases directly will get an additional behind-the-scenes chapter outlining the making of the book, and the unexpected Hurrah that happened in Perth two months later. If you've already got the book I can send you the text of the extra chapter, fill in this form or email me. Please do, as this will give me motivation to finish writing the thing. Also, please note these things are arriving at Demonblog Towers in weird, random, partial shipments so I'll let you know if there are any delays fulfilling - let me know if you've got an ASAP requirement for a gift.

Now, at the end of my two year ride as a real life, actual published author, let me say how much I appreciate the support and kind words from the community. I'll be returning to strictly amateur projects from here, and if I ever find the time I'd like to do the 1965-1987 shambles years, a 2017-2021 Great Deelight compilation, and the collected AFLW match reports.

Next week
I'll issue the same cautious tone for Hawthorn as I did North, and hopefully we vastly exceeded expectations again. They're not good, and on paper we should walk this but you just never know. If Hibberd is fit he's obviously back in, and regardless of whether or not they make an example of JVR for his KO, send Petty back where he belongs and include Brown. Harmes was good after coming on as sub so his reward is a start.

IN: Brown, Harmes, Hibberd
OUT: Jordon (to sub), Turner (omit), van Rooyen (susp)

Final thoughts
This is the stage of the year where the ladder looks so tight that you think anyone in the top 14 could make finals. It'll break apart in the next couple of months, but top four looks like it's going to be a multiple team over the top rope battle royale so every win counts. Do we like a flag contender at the moment? No. Does it matter at this stage if we keep winning? Probably not for a while yet. So let's just do that. 


  1. I'm not sure if your form link for the extra chapter works?
    Would love to get my hands on it (and have already got the book).

    1. God knows what I did with the form (and with that sort of quality control what else could go wrong?) but email me and I'll definitely send through when finished.


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